What is drifting in the breeze? – The charm of linden blossoms

This time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere linden trees are in bloom.  The linden tree is a romantic thing, with fragrant furry yellow flowers and heart-shaped bright green leaves. And when you walk along an avenue of linden trees, you understand why people sing about that, because you are suddenly enveloped in a cloud of earthy, sweet fragrance which goes straight to your head. It’s great for use in perfume, as a medicinal herb, to make a tea with and to attract bees for a very fragrant honey. I was walking through an avenue of linden trees in our neighbourhood this week when someone stopped to ask me why we were taking photos of the trees. I explained – but I reckon not many people know what they are smelling when they walk through a linden tree avenue, and understand why there is sap on the ground.

A linden tree in an avenue in our neighbourhood, showing the honeydew on the leaves and the blossoms. (Photo by MF O’Brien, 2019)

What is the linden tree?

The linden as we know it is one of the species of the Tilia, a genus of about 30 species of trees or bushes native throughout most of the temperate Northern Hemisphere. The genus is generally called “lime” or “linden” in Britain and “linden”, “lime”, or “basswood” in North America. The name, linden, is related to the old English “lithe”, and German “lind” which means  “lenient, yielding”, but – despite the similarity in name and fragrance – the tree is NOT related to the citrus fruit tree called “lime”.

Tilia trees are subject to the attack of many insects. You can see the effect of these when you walk past the trees in Spring, through smears of something sticky on the ground below – and on the cars parked under the trees. In particular, aphids are attracted by the rich supply of sap, and are in turn often “farmed” by ants for the production of the sap which the ants collect, and the result can often be a dripping of excess sap onto the lower branches and leaves, and anything else below. Cars left under the trees can quickly become coated with a film of this dripping syrup (called ”honeydew” – what a nice name considering what it is).

Looking up into a linden tree in bloom in a linden tree avenue in our neighbourhood. (Photo by MF O’Brien, 2019)

The linden has always been a highly symbolic and hallowed tree to the German people. The most notable street in Berlin, Germany, is called Unter den Linden (meaning “under the linden trees”), though most of the trees planted there were destroyed in WWII and replanted in the 1950s. In German folklore, the linden is the “tree of lovers”.

Unter den Linden Street, Berlin, in Autumn (Image: simple.wikipedia.org)

Perfumes with linden blossom

If this particular honeyed, fresh and slightly musky fragrance appeals to you, then you will find these linden-blossom-based fragrances interesting and might want to try one.  Many perfumes have the name “linden” in them or have “linden blossom” in their description, but yet contain no actual extract of linden blossoms nor the flower of the tilia tree. The reason is probably that while the flowers smell sweet, honey-like, green and herby, they do not smell like oranges, lemons or limes, and remember that the tree is not related to the citrus fruit tree, the actual lime tree.

Apart from these perfumes listed below, the linden (or lime) blossom also features prominently in L’Ete en Douce (L’Artisan Parfumeur), Debut (Parfums DelRae), Eau de Ciel (Annick Goutal), and French Lime Blossom (Jo Malone).

Tilleul by Parfums D’Orsay

“Tilleul Eau de Toilette” by Parfums D’Orsay Paris

The French perfume house Parfums D’Orsay was founded in Paris in 1830. In 1982, president of the company, 80-year-old Jacques Guérin, descendant of Jeanne-Louise Guérin who bought the company in 1916, left the firm and subsequently the company went into a decline. (So you will find their perfumes being sold as collectors’ items.) In the 1990s it had a brief revival, and in 2007, the brand was bought by Marie Huet who revisits the historical creations of the house and designs new fragrances. The brand was relaunched in 2018, and now one can only gain access to the website if you provide an email address. D’Orsay developed four linden or lime-based perfumes; 1955 –Tilleul (“tilleul” in French means simply “lime”); 1958 – Toiletries Tilleul; 1999 – Tilleul Friction de Nuit; and 2012 – Tilleul Pour La Nuit. In the latest iteration, Tilleul De La Nuit, the middle notes are lime “linden” blossom and thyme.

Jelisaveta HRH Princess Elizabeth for Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia

“Jelisaveta HRH Princes Elizabeth” perfume

Jelisaveta HRH Princess Elizabeth is the second fragrance developed for Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia. The first fragrance is simply called “E”. Perfumer Sophia Grojsman designed Jelisaveta HRH Princess Elizabeth for Princess Elizabeth in 2002. The translation of the website of HRH Princess Elizabeth states:

“Princess Elizabeth opened a new, exciting chapter in her life thanks to the success of her second perfume, to which she gave her Serbian name “Jelisaveta”. This is a fascinatingly different perfume, destined for success, and it is perfect contrast to the classical elegance and sophistication of the first perfume, “E”. Like the spring sky without a cloud, “Jelisaveta” will cheer you up. This new, divine experience will delight you with the scents of orange blossom, lime in bloom and jasmine. The final composition is so feminine, so gently seductive that all princesses will fall in love with it.”

This perfume can still be found in specialist boutiques and retailers – it has become quite rare.

Unter den Linden Natural Perfume by April Aromatics

“Unter den Linden Natural Perfume” by April Aromatics

Unter den Linden Natural Perfume (the German “unter den Linden” means “under the linden trees”) by April Aromatics, was developed by perfumer Tanja Bochnig. It is described as;

“..a linden blossom absolute extract from France and linden blossom CO2 [carbon dioxide] extract from Bulgaria mixed with Magnolia flowers and a hint of citrus in a base of organic grain alcohol, creates this delicate fragrance with a beautiful, light, powdery, sweetly-floral scent.”

Linden Eau de Parfum by Margot Elena

Library of Flowers – “Linden Eau de Parfum”, by Margot Elena

Linden Eau de Parfum, launched in 2013, by Margot Elena, has a top note of linden blossom, a middle note of narcissus and a base note of clover honey. The perfume is part of their Library of Flowers range, from their Small Batch Perfumery. Margot Elena’s website features probably the prettiest names and packaging I have seen for perfumes for a long time. Every product is evocative and has an interesting story.

Screengrab of the website of Margot Elena: https://margotelena.com

A song about the linden tree

Arguably the most famous song about the linden tree is Der Lindenbaum by Franz Schubert, from his song cycle Winterreise, 1828 (song no. 8). Here it is, with the words translated into English, because it is so pretty, just like the linden blossoms this time of the year.


Artists: Franz Schubert (composer); Jonas Kaufmann (tenor); Helmut Deutsch (pianist)
Album: Winterreise, D911: Der Lindenbaum (2014)
Licensed to YouTube by SME (on behalf of Masterworks); Public Domain Compositions, and 1 Music Rights Societies


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